What does it mean that 'as a man thinks, so is he' in Proverbs 23:7?
The phrase "as a man thinks, so is he" comes from Proverbs 23:7. Taken on its own, the phrase could seem to have a few meanings. In order to fully understand what the writer of Proverbs meant, we need to look at the surrounding verses for context.
Proverbs 23, as a chapter, focuses on giving life advice for how to handle oneself in various life situations. Verse 7 is in the context of a scenario described in Proverbs 23:7–6 (NKJV):
"Do not eat the bread of a miser,
Nor desire his delicacies;
For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.
'Eat and drink!' he says to you,
But his heart is not with you.
The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up,
And waste your pleasant words."
In verse 6, the reader is admonished to not "eat the bread of a miser" with the first level explanation being the phrase we see in verse 7: "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he." Verse 7 is referring to the miser. In the day and age this was written, it was a cultural expectation that any visitor to a home would be offered food. This requires, of course, a certain level of generosity. A miser is a penny-pincher, one who may be downright greedy. Therefore, a miser would be a begrudging host who would only be hospitable due to cultural expectations or some sort of ulterior motives. This is elucidated in some other translations. Where the NKJV has "For as he thinks in his heart, so is he," the ESV says "for he is like one who is inwardly calculating." The NIV gives, "for he is the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost."
This Proverb warns against accepting hospitality from a begrudging host. If you must partake, only indulge in the minimum amount. Even though there may be the appearance of generosity, "his heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, and waste your pleasant words" (verse 7b—8). This does not mean that you will necessarily vomit food you eat from such a host, but rather it indicates that the food and conversation will not satisfy because it was not shared in genuine goodwill and generosity.
This passage is saying that the truth about a person lies within their heart—and it may not always match their outward behavior. If you sense there may be something ingenuine about someone who is appearing to be hospitable to you, be wary lest they end up resenting you or having a hidden motive for their outward niceness. Ask the Lord for wisdom when you encounter a situation like this (James 1:5).
The phrase "as a man thinks in his heart, so is he" is sometimes taken out of context and used in some sort of motivational sense to get people to "think" themselves into improved life situations (i.e., if you think you are successful, you will become successful). This statement is not talking about thinking yourself into a new version of yourself. Nor is it saying that everything you think about yourself is true. It is warning that a person's actions are not always indicative of his true heart. "As a man thinks, so is he" means that who a person really is, is determined by their heart. The true meaning of this phrase is revealed when we look at the greater context within Proverbs 23:6–8.
Copyright 2011-2020 Got Questions Ministries - All Rights Reserved.